This was a question I thought of after posting my list of 50 things I ponder about, but I want to explore this further because I’ve never heard anyone else ask this same question.
Limerence is a term coined by psychotherapist Dorothy Tennov in 1979 in her excellent book, Love and Limerence. Limerence is a newer word for the state of infatuation, being “in love” (as opposed to real, agape or mature love), or simply “having a crush.” I’ve always liked her word because I think it sounds exactly like what the emotion feels like. I never liked the term infatuation because it sounds disgusting, having a crush implies an “unserious” problem only teenagers have, and being in love is probably not accurate.
She hypothesizes that limerence is an evolutionary adaptation that makes it possible for men and women to meet and mate, and lasts just long enough for them to marry and reproduce. That’s why the typical limerent episode lasts on average two years, and why it more commonly afflicts the young.
I’ve always been what Tennov calls a “limerent”–a person who gets crushes easily. Not everyone does. People with Cluster B disorders, especially BPD, are more prone to limerence than others, because we tend to idealize other people without really knowing them well or at all. It’s actually very narcissistic, because the other person serves as a kind of mirror, reflecting back the ideal qualities you want to see in them–until they don’t. Tennov calls the object of a crush a “limerent object.” In some ways, when you’re limerent about someone, you do see them as an object, because the idealized image of the other person isn’t based on reality or even accurate. At least that’s the common belief.
But what if it IS accurate? What if limerence is actually a hyper-real state where you see another person as they really are, and just aren’t seeing everyone else the way they really are? What if it’s kind of like the idiot savant phenomenon in severe autism, where the autistic person seems to focus ALL their intellect into one narrow subject at the expense of everything else? In other words, if we were all created in God’s image, then maybe we are all far more beautiful and closer to perfection than we can perceive in everyday reality, and only in the state of limerence, when all our attention is focused on one person, we can see that person the way they really are, which is the way God perceives each one of us.
If you’ve ever been limerent about someone, and especially if they return your feelings (or you believe they do), you feel heady, giddy, euphoric, almost high. It’s a very spiritual feeling, and falling in love with someone does feel very spiritual. When we look at someone we are limerent about, are we really seeing them through a small window that lets us see them the way God sees the whole universe and everything in it?
Maybe the people who are closest to God and the spiritual, and who are the happiest, walk through life feeling limerent about everything. Being able to feel that way all the time about everything is the closest thing to heaven I can imagine.
That feeling can also be induced by certain drugs. Limerence could be closer to a drug high, but I prefer to think it’s a small peek into the divine.
I read somewhere that limerence is being considered as a mental illness in later editions of the DSM. Whether or not it’s real, I think that would be a shame, because limerence can be one of the most profound and magical experiences in life.
Further reading: Do Narcissists Fall in Love?